Charging a premium for Western cuisine

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Charging a premium for Western cuisine

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Here’s the thing about eating “Western food” in Korea. It’s hard to understand why an average dish of Olio pasta or a small grilled chicken sandwich, more often than not, costs more than an authentic, country-style Korean meal, consisting of multi-grain rice, soup, a variety of fresh side dishes and even dessert sometimes.
Some say it is costly to get the necessary ingredients and others cite high rentals where the stores are located (most of these restaurants are situated on popular main streets). Really though, are a few strips of grilled chicken, two slices of tomato, two onion rings and a thin slice of mozzarella cheese on bread worth more than 8,000 won ($8.50)?
At just 1,500 won short of 10,000 won, the grilled chicken panini I ordered at take-out diner “Look At Me” would have disappointed me no matter what, unless the bread was sprinkled with 24 carat gold flakes or the like.
In its defense, the diner, located in Sinsa-dong’s trendsetting Garosugil (stretching between Apgujeong-dong and Sinsa-dong), is quite charming, with a petite open kitchen, a cute attached bar and a glass display near the entrance.
One good thing about the panini was that the chicken, grilled on the spot in the open kitchen, was fragrant with basil and other herbs, with a pleasant, slightly smoky flavor. The bread however, which the restaurant claimed was whole grain and for which I paid an extra 2,000 won, tasted as sweet as cake. The mayo-based spread, with a hint of dijon mustard, was a little too overpowering for the mozzarella cheese.
As the panini was only the size of my open hand ― for reference, one of my more outspoken friends has told me I have hobbit-size hands ― it wasn’t enough to make a complete lunch, so I ordered a cup of clam chowder. Initially suspecting the chowder might turn out to be Campbell’s, I was pleasantly surprised that the potato in it wasn’t soggy or bland, but, the waitress told me, had been semi-baked. The texture, not watery but not overwhelmingly creamy was also a surprise, as chowder or cream-based soups and pastas in Korea are often excessively creamy.
“Look At Me” could have been a lot worse in terms of food, as many food outlets in this area rely solely on a sexy title and cute interior. All I can say is, although the grilled chicken panini was more attractive than a Burger King grilled chicken burger, it didn’t taste a lot better.


by Cho Jae-eun

Look At Me is located near Sinsa Station, line No. 3, exit 8. The diner is open from 9 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. every Monday through Saturday. For more information, call (02) 3442-0061.
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